Another week of short stories read (you can read Week 1 here) The only problem is, I don’t always make a note of them straight away, and then I forget – especially if they aren’t very memorable. I’m sure there’s at least one story this week I’ve missed, but then it probably wasn’t that good…
I’ve got three favourites this week.
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (Clarksworld Magazine) – This story is really thoughtful, interesting and funny. Imagine if out of Google there emerged an Artificial Intelligence that just wanted to help people… and more cat pictures! This was a recommendation from a good friend, and what a good recommendation it was. It did win the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2016, as well as the Locus Award, and was nominated for the Nebula too. Not exactly a hidden secret then! Maybe I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but better late than never!
Childfinder by Octavia E Butler (Levar Burton Reads) – The only other thing I’d read of Octavia E Butler was her excellent novel Kindred, which was one of my favourite reads of 2018. I went into this story therefore with high expectations but they didn’t disappoint. Interestingly, this story was written early on in her career but was never published (it was written for an anthology for Harlan Ellison that never happened – The Last Dangerous Visions) in her lifetime, only being published after her death. This is notable, because if you thought it was written late in her career, you might think it a bit derivative, but the fact that it was written much earlier makes it far more impressive. It concerns telepaths, and the setup reminded me a lot of Psi-Corps from the 1990s TV series Babylon 5, but it had much more to it than that, including some of Butler’s favourite themes such as issues of race and gender.
A Warning to the Curious by M R James – Not all the stories I read are speculative fiction, or even at all recent. This is an early 20th century ghost story by noted ‘antiquarian ghost story writer M R James’. Actually in addition to being a writer M R James was a medieval scholar (as well as a career that included posts as Vice Chancellor Cambridge University and Provost of Eton College), and this infused much of his fiction writing. There’s usually some old historical mystery or artifact involved somewhere in the story. This story is set in a small town on England’s North East coast. There’s beautiful evocative descriptions to begin the story, and a gradual shift to some spooky overtones. Well worth a read.
And here’s the rest of the stories I’ve read this week.
Amicae Aeternum by Ellen Klages (from the anthology Reach for Infinity edited by Johnathan Strahan). A child goes to visit a friend for the last time before embarking on a Generation starship, leaving Earth forever. Includes the classic list ‘Twenty Reasons Why Being on a Generation Ship Sucks’. ***1/2
Driftglass by Samuel R Delany (from Levar Burton Reads podcast). Sorry, didn’t love this one, I know it’s highly regarded by many though. **1/2
Seven Birthdays by Ken Liu (originally from the anthology ‘Bridging Infinity’, it is also available on Tor.com) – A story spanning seven birthdays over thousands of years. Really good examination of possible future of mankind. Just misses out on a top 3 space for the week ****
The Wind Whispers Secrets to the Sea by Jordan Kurella (from Strange Horizons)An interesting story, but didn’t fully work for me. ***
Mum-Bot Isn’t Happy by Filip Wiltgren (from Daily Science Fiction). There was good idea at the heart of this story, and to me it wasn’t. If more fully developed it could have been really interesting and allowed the characters and emotions to shine, but the format (flash fiction) restricted this. **
On First Contacts and Second Chances by Markus Lauerer (from Daily Science Fiction) A decent little flash fiction tale. Adds a dose of realism to the idea of a first contact situation. ***1/2
Glass Roses by Terra LeMay – (Dreamforge Magazine – may require subscription) Ever heard the phrase seeing through Rose-tinted spectacles? This story expands on this in a rather good way. A nice story of magical realism. ****